Alley paving program running out of money

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

There’s a bumpy road ahead for Evanston’s alley paving program, as increased demand is surpassing the program’s funding.

The program, which allows the city to split the financial burden of paving alleys with residents whose property is adjacent to the alleys, has received a large increase in demand over the past year and is unable to fund all the current requests in a timely manner, city staff said at Monday’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting. In the program, the city is responsible for 50 percent of the cost, and residents are responsible for the other half.

According to city documents, each mile of alley costs $2.5 million to pave. And considering 30 miles — roughly 40 percent — of the city’s alleys remain unpaved, the total cost would be $75 million.

Because the program is currently funded at $500,000 a year, repaving all of the city’s alleys under the program would take 75 years with residents paying half the cost of their projects.

Due to the increase in demand, city staff have stopped issuing petitions to residents who want to start the process of paving their alleys. There is currently a backlog in scheduling for the six petitions for paving that have been accepted, with the last accepted petition scheduled to be paved in 2019. There are also other petitions that have been submitted but not accepted and others in circulation among residents.

The city will address the issue in the fall during budget deliberations for the 2017 fiscal year, city officials agreed to at the meeting. Proposed options to increase its half of the funding include taking funding from the capital improvement projects fund, using revenue from one-time sources, such as from a large building permit, and dedicating a new revenue source for the program, such as a new or increased tax.

Several aldermen said a tax increase — such as a slight increase in the gas tax — might be unfair to residents who do not participate in the program.

“People who want their alleys paved need to bear the costs,” Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said. “I just don’t think the costs should be spread across the whole of Evanston.”

The increase in petitions may be a result of an increase in resident’s willingness to sign on to paying their share of the paving, said Lara Biggs, the Public Works capital planning bureau chief.

Biggs told the Daily there was a drop-off in 2008, when the national economy began a recession, and that the recent increase may be a result of a better economic environment.

“We’ve been trying to get people to do alleys for years, and now they want to do them,” Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said. “Everyone has to understand that there’s only so much money on the city side as well.”

The city maintains the unpaved alleys, which are prone to flooding and ruts, lead to the spread of dirt and debris from the alley into adjacent properties.

According to city documents, the lifetime of a paved alley is about 75 years, and paving can lead to an improvement in drainage issues for the alley and surrounding properties.

“I think it is really a shared value that we have as many alleys paved as possible,” Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said. “Having paved alleys improves the overall value of the entire city for everyone, and it does improve the property value for everyone who is on that alley.”

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